Thursday, June 22, 2006

ITW & Allegations of Sexism: Gayle Lynds responds

My thanks to Jim Rollins, ITW Chair, who forwarded this to me and gave me permission to post it.

My name is Gayle Lynds, and I'm co-founder and co-president of ITW, with David Morrell.  I've been following with interest the queries that have arisen about the nominees for the first ITW Thriller awards.  As an individual --- not representing ITW, its board, or its officers --- perhaps I can shed some light on the subject.
I was as surprised as anyone by the results of the ITW Thriller nominations.  But then, ITW deliberately built a firewall around the award judges, so none of us knew the outcome in advance.  At the same time, no panel of judges knew the results of any other panel's deliberations. 
Let me tell you a little about the firewall:  Any author or person speaking on behalf of an author who tried to influence any of ITW's judges would have had that author's books disqualified for two years.  This was so that the judges could work in private and in secret.  All board members as well as the chair of the Awards Committee ---  James Rollins --- were ineligible to be considered for the awards.  Again, this was to protect the judges and to avoid any accusations of favoritism toward ITW's leaders.  This information is available in ITW's bylaws.

In short, ITW's board worked very hard to make certain the awards were as fair and as impartial as possible, and so did the judges, as you will see.
Since this was ITW's first year, the judges faced the monumental task of creating systems that would be the foundation for all future awards.  Because of the boxes of books that arrived on their doorsteps to be read, several had to delay their own deadlines and make sacrifices within their families in order to fulfill their very serious responsibility to judge well.  This sort of selflessness is to be lauded.
I personally am proud of every book and film script that was nominated.  All are excellent works from the thriller field.
Now about the accusations I've read recently about sexism in the awards....
If you go to Thriller Writers.ORG  you'll see a list of all submitted books.  Only 29% were written by women.  For the Thriller Best Novel, only 17%. 
At the bottom of that page, you'll see a note to authors:  "If your book is not on the list, please contact your publisher to remind them to submit your book as quickly as possible." 
So what happened? 
The chair and judging panels showed their concern that they be able to consider every thriller published in 2005 in several ways.  The chair and several chief judges contacted all publishers --- both publicists and editors in each house --- to alert them that ITW was in the process of judging its first awards and to ask them to submit all thrillers. 
I stress that not just one person was contacted in each house, but several, to ensure that the house understood that ITW really wanted each and every book in all of the subcategories of thrillers, from adventure to medical, romantic to espionage, legal to historical, and every other permutation.  No one should be left out of the race.
Still, books were not always submitted.  The judges worked closely with the chair, alerting him when they saw new books coming out.  At the same time, he was on the watch, too.  He went back time and again to publishers. 
When it became apparent that few novels by female authors were being submitted, he redoubled his efforts, often contacting a house four times on behalf of novels that were clearly thrillers written by women. 
At the same time notices were sent to ITW members reminding them to check the website to make certain their 2005 novels had been submitted.
In the end, the responsibility for having books submitted rests on the shoulders of the publishers.  That's their job.  At the same time, authors had the option of submitting copies of their books themselves. 
As an author (not as a woman who has spent her life battling sexism), I could complain that no women were nominated.  At the same time, I could also complain that no people of color were.  I'm not sure whether any Muslims or religions other than Christian or Jewish were nominated, but I think they weren't either.  There also might be a preponderance of nominees from one section of the United States, which could be taken as a prejudice favoring that area.
As long as awards are given in whatever field, there are always going to be those who say, "I wish it were otherwise.  And because it isn't, it's prejudice."
The only time there's really an institutional problem, at least in my mind, is when there is a history of one group of people being disenfranchised. 
Since this is ITW's first year, the organization can have no track record of institutional prejudice.  ITW has worked diligently to avoid prejudice.  The judges by their actions have indicated they have also been diligent in trying to create a level playing field. 
My hat is off to ITW's judges, who worked very hard and read many fine books.  All are excellent authors in their own rights, too.  They did a sincere and worthy job, and they deserve not only our respect but our appreciation.
By the way, the awards chair for next year is a woman.  She is not a person of color.  Her religious background is unknown to me.  I'm not even certain where she lives.  She is a fine author and a wonderful human.  Her name will be announced at ThrillerFest. 
Anyone who would like to attend ThrillerFest --- it's going to be a blast --- should visit the website for more information.  You can learn there at the Awards Banquet who the winners for the Thrillers are.  ThrillerFest begins next week.  As I said, all of the nominees are excellent.  I congratulate them on creating superb works.
Gayle Lynds


David Terrenoire said...

As I said, all of the nominees are excellent. I congratulate them on creating superb works.

Gayle Lynds

Now, who are we to argue with Gayle, a person of immense talent and perspicacity.

Not to mention charm, beauty, brains and grace.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

In hindsight, the original entry that started all this would have done better to use the results of the ITW nominations to make complaints about the status of women within the publishing industry. That the nominees are all men does say something but not that the judging process was sexist. It suggests we aren't getting enough thriller novels written by women. The real question is why aren't we seeing more thriller novels by women? Is it because publishers aren't taking women seriously as thriller writers? Are too few women even trying? Or is it just readers aren't giving female thriller writers a fair shake? I don't have answers to these questions, and they're the questions I'd enjoy seeing tackled.

Sandra Ruttan said...

A very good point Bill, and Val McDermid touched on that in the thread I linked to below. I don't have any stats to put behind that, so I can only speculate. But I agree that, in reading Gayle's excellent letter, if there is something to be concerned about, it's that.

Do the publishers not believe in their female writers?

I don't have answers, and I'm not going to run off and make wild accusations without them. Food for thought, nothing more.

Linda L. Richards said...

I'm reminded that Alex Kava -- who may even have been one of the judges this year -- had a very tough time getting published initally.

If I remember the interview I read correctly, when she was submitting under her birth name (and I don't remember what that is, but it's a clearly feminine one) she couldn't even get an agent. She sent out batches and batches of manuscript packages to agents, only to have them rejected. Then she decided to try submitting as "Alex" and more than one agent offered to take her on.

This may be apropos of nothing at all, but it does make one think.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

Linda, I've heard of stories similar to that one, and it does make a person wonder. I know of a thriller writer who is black, and at one point, he had a publisher who was interested but still couldn't find an agent! You hear something like this and can't help but think, "What is wrong with this picture?"

Sandra Ruttan said...

David, well said!

Linda, Bill, these are good points. They are worthy of discussion. My problem was always, "You're Canadian". But not everybody had that problem. And even when I had deal offers in hand, I couldn't get an agent. I never thought it was because I was a woman or Canadian, but because it's damn hard to find an agent!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Sandra, and thanks Gayle, for giving a clear picture of the way the awards were handled.

I know everyone worked hard, and it's good to be reminded how much the judges sacrificed to do this work.

Bill Cameron said...

I must be totally out of it, but, um, "You're Canadian" is a problem?! That's just baffling to me. *boggle*

Beyond that, it really is a shame that gender or skin color continues to be an issue in this day and age, especially within the domain of books. Maybe I'm just naive but if something's worth reading, it's worth reading whether it's written by a Jane or a John.

Linda L. Richards said...

Sure: being Canadian is a problem. All you ever hear is, "Sure, we would give you a contract, but we're not sure we'll be able to cough up the required cheese."

Actually, this is jest. Being Canadian is generally not a problem. Americans know we're just like them: only more polite.

Sandra, give 'er, eh?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Anonymous, you're right. It is important to remember the sacrifices judges made. VERY. I couldn't blame any of them for not signing on next year.

Bill, it came up a few times. It wasn't universal, by any stretch. However, one of my books is set in Canada, and that seemed to be more of a sticking point with some.

Linda, I'm not so sure we are more polite, eh?! But on the subject of Canadians and Americans, Rick Mercer has a blog. Funny as hell.

Bill Cameron said...


Naomi said...

I think Bill/Wildcat makes an excellent point--it would have been more productive to examine the larger systemic issues regarding women and publishing.

And if individuals are truly concerned about the issue, what are they going to do about it?

One of the most rewarding talks I ever did was to fifth and sixth graders who were predominantly Asian and Latino. When they looked at me, I know that they saw a part of themselves. I've also conducted numerous writing and publishing workshops in the Japanese American community. I know many of them were thinking, if this bloody Naomi can do it, why can't I? (A group of us is planning an inaugural Asian Pacific American Book Festival in L.A. in May 2007.)

None of this is earth shattering and who knows if any published writers emerge from such efforts. But at some point, after all the talk dies down, action--however small--needs to follow or else this is just wasted energy and emotion.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bill, you are a welcome addition to the lively comments on my blog!

Naomi, you have raised excellent points and you're right - this does require action. If women think they aren't being treated fairly, they do need to look at the broader picture and deal with the root of the problem.

Honestly, what woman hasn't dealt with a bit of sexism?

I think automatically presuming that a group is sexist, however, is the stuff of pots and kettles.

The question is, what do we do to confirm or refute the perceived prejudices against women in the writing community, and then what do we do to change that?

But I don't have any answers.

angie said...

Thanks for posting Gayle Lynds' response. Very articulate and informative. It's amazing how this whole thing has been blown completely out of proportion. Too bad a civil discussion of the issues couldn't happen without making unfounded accusations. Makes me sad & a little angry for the writers who were nominated. What a drag.

DesLily said...

my, how things change when you know both sides of a story!! (great detective work Sandra!)

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

"Still, books were not always submitted."

This was one of my many jobs at the small press for which I recently worked. It's up to your publisher to stay on top of post-publication award deadlines, guidelines, etc. It sounds like some of them dropped the ball.

If you feel strongly that your book should be submitted for an award--and are concerned that it might be--then contact your agent or publisher and let them know. Award winners and finalists are good for their bottom line.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Sorry, that should have been "concerned that it might NOT be."

R.J. Baker said...


Always stirring the pot...



anne frasier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sandra Ruttan said...

Geesh Anne, I never even knew you were judging, and never even thought it might be you. I don't know how you missed the shit flying through the air, though! At least you've got a face full now, right?!

RJ, you know me! XO Good to see you!

Patrick, the puts the other side in as well. It is on publishers to get motivated, if they don't send the books then their author can't win.

DesLily, thanks! It proved no more difficult than emailing the chair, whose email address was posted on the ITW website, who then graciously provided me with the response when it was available.

Angie, yeah, it is a drag. And being friend with Stuart and David, I'm frustrated for them. No matter what, this has robbed some of the pleasure of being nominated, or winning, from those who achieved that. Very sad.

And Anne, you know, as much as I agree with you that it was frustrating your books wouldn't be in the bookstore, and support your decision not to attend, I agree with your comment that Phoenix should be the focus right now. It's been all academic for me, since I'm not attending Thrillerfest this year, but truly, this is the first year. There will be kinks to iron out. This is an important event, and we need to trust in it and support it.

Good points all!

JT Ellison said...

Sandra, as always, you've managed to lead the world in getting to the heart of the matter. Very, very nicely done!

anne frasier said...

oops. i meant our focus should be the lack of female entries -- whether they simply aren't being written or publishers aren't submitting them.
both i suspect.

just need to get more in there next year.

maybe i should delete my above comment if nobody noticed that little thing about me.... nice to stay out of flinging poop range.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks JT!

Anne, you're call. It doesn't matter if people think I was talking to myself. That's no secret.

R.J. Baker said...

Wow, the fur continues to fly...

Evil Kev said...

Sandra made me aware of this yesterday, but I waited until today to review this in its entirety.

It is sad to see just how many people out there are so eager to take any event and project their own world view on it. Below is a case in point, which is an except from the Lipstick Chronicles:

"That's one of the most tactless arguments women have faced for decades - bring up that no women are represented and immediately someone points out "but there are no X either" which serves to diminish the argument and make it look like we're being petty. That stinks and it's not funny. I've heard it my whole life, from people just out to provoke, not contribute to a discussion."

But this is the essence of the problem. That post was not a discussion, but an attempt to provoke and push the poster's personal viewpoint into the limelight. There is no courage in making accusations without proof or "piling on" as several of the posters did.

The wonderful thing about having the persecution viewpoint is that it is imperious to other viewpoints. Every event, statement or counterpoint validates their point.

No response to their point proves they are right.

A response that no bias exists proves they are right because the organization is covering up.

The greatest problem that faces all human beings is that we see the world though our own single view point and too often people are content to color what they see with their own experiences.

The ITW inaugural awards have now been colored by this bias.

Now if next year, 80% of the nominations are for female authors, does this mean that a wrong has been righted or did the organization vote that way to avoid another round of accusations. Reverse discrimination is still discrimination.

The goal of equality is to see everyone as equals. When I read a book, my first thought is not about the gender of the author, but the quality of the book. I could care less if a book is written by a man, woman or a monkey. (Though I am pretty sure that all the monkeys are rewriting the works of Shakespeare.)

All I can say is that when you don't look for conspiracies, it is surprising how seldom you will actually find one.

Steve Allan said...

I think this whole thing will blow over. After the awards are given out next week, no one will care about this "issue". It's much ado about nothing. The gender issue with thrillers will prove to be moot over time.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I think I get the gist of what's going on. It's too bad that women always have to defend themselves!

stevemosby said...

Sandra, at least, knows my views on awards in general, so I can't pretend to be too troubled by the whole issue. But just to play devil's advocate here, I don't think that Gayle's letter - articulate as it is - addresses the issue at all. She gives a few statistics, but none of them are particularly informative.

29% of the submissions were by women. The implication might be that it's the fault of the publishers/authors for not submitting more, but the statistic by itself tells you nothing. I mean, what percentage of eligible books were written by women? Unless you know that, you can't say whether 29% is low, high or about right.

Leaving that issue aside, the concern was that the shortlists drawn from the submissions didn't contain any women. Saying that only 29% of the submissions were by women doesn't answer this point, it underlines it. If all the books were of equal quality, then the odds of drawing 5 men from a group containing 71 men and 29 women is about 1 in 6. That's unlikely, but possible. However...

The percentage given for the thriller category (17%) gives odds of five male nominees at 1 in 3. On the surface, you might think that answers the problem, but it doesn't. If the thriller category was 17% women, and women overall formed 29% of the submissions, then at least one of the other categories must have been substantially higher. So 1 in 3 for the thriller category might be considered all right - but what are the percentages for the others? Best case scenario, far as my maths will allow (and leaving out screenplays?), is 30% in each of the two other categories. About 1 in 7 for each. So the odds of no women across three categories are (at best) 1/3 * 1/7 * 1/7 = 1 in 147.

My point is that the letter doesn't resolve the problem. You're still left with three options:

1) the books were all of equal quality, and a very unlikely event occurred.

2) the judges were biased.

3) the books by women weren't of equal quality.

I reiterate - honestly, just playing devil's advocate.

stevemosby said...

Obviously, I meant 35% across the other two categories, not 30%. So that's even worse odds...

Kate said...

Steve, I'm glad to see that somebody else calculated the probabilities. I used the 70% men figure and worked out that if the books were of equal quality you could expect all fifteen nominees to be men once in every 200 years. (It would be a bit less often than that calculated properly but that's close enough.)

I find it very hard to believe that not one of the novels submitted by women was good enough to make the top five in its category. That leaves bias, but I think it was more likely a subtle bias in the criteria the judges used than a deliberate bias against women.

JamesO said...

Coming late to this argument (as usual), I can't help but agree with EvilKev - conspiracy usually only exists in the eye of the beholder. There undoubtedly is all manner of prejudice in the publishing industry, as there is in all walks of life, sadly. But despite Steve's impressive statistics, I don't think you can say that the ITW Thrillers are prejudiced yet.

Of the last ten books I have read, not all of them 'crime' or 'thriller' novels, six have been written by women, and four by men (and three of them haven't been published yet) but that is completely irrelevant. I read them because they had been recommended to me, because I knew the author's earlier work, or in one case because the author had asked me for information about sheep. Gender was never an issue in choosing, only whether the story appealed to me.

Chick Lit and Romance are largely written by women (yeah, I know, sweeping statement), and I don't tend to read them. Does that make me a misogynist? No, it makes me someone who doesn't particularly like Romance or Chick Lit.

Marketing for these titles is largely geared towards women readers, and I suspect (although this is just conjecture) that it is quite hard for male authors to break into these genres, and this is the heart of the conspiracy, so to speak.

Publishers are inherently conservative and risk-averse. If they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that thrillers written by men sell better than those written by women, then they will be more willing to back male authors. Thus there will be more titles by male authors out there, and bigger sales. This feeds the perception that male thriller writers are more profitable (note, 'more profitable' - not 'better') than female thriller writers, and the whole cycle repeats. It's not sexism so much as capitalism.

The buying public probably doesn't pay much attention to author gender, but any small bias is amplified by the publishing machine. So there are fewer women writing thrillers because there are fewer thrillers out there written by women, if you see what I mean.

And now I will shut up.

JA Konrath said...

I find it very hard to believe that not one of the novels submitted by women was good enough to make the top five in its category.

I've spoken to four of the judges. Two of them didn't even know they'd nominated men only until the sexist charges were slung.

They picked what they felt were the best books. End of story.

Trace said...

Linda, I remember reading an interview with Alex Kava where she said she had to change her name to Alex in order to get agents to even consider her, and publishers to stop telling her that "this part could use a love scene" because she's a female writer.

stevemosby said...

The only reason I banged on about the statistics is that was the explanation given in the letter that started this thread. The implication seemed to be "not that many women put books forward, so it was always likely it would be mostly men". Well, that's not true.

I reckon a more correct response would be:

"it's not a list of the 5 best books, it's a list of the judges' favourite books, and coincidentally, they happened to prefer books by men. Sad but true. This type of award, by necessity, relies on judges giving their personal opinions. If you don't agree with their opinion then you are free to create your own top five: it will be equally valid in the grand scheme of things.*"

*[Unless, of course, you decide in advance the number of x that must be included,(insert your own gender, nationality, race, sexuality or anything else that has absolutely no bearing on writing quality here), in which case your list of "top 5 books" should immediately be renamed as ... something else.]

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah, I know what you're saying - every list that is put out is a list of the judges' favourite books in the end. Judging has a subjective element to it.

I mean, it's like figure skating. You can grade technical stuff with more accuracy, but how do you grade "artistic impression"? You can't, not really.

It's just that if Team Canada only sends one pair to the ice dancing competition, they aren't as likely to make it to the podium as the Russians if they send three.

What I'm left wondering is if not as many books written by women were sent because the publicists didn't believe in them, or because there aren't that many women writing what qualifies as thrillers, or what the reason was.

I just think it's clear that ITW bent over backwards to make sure women were considered for these awards. They didn't come out as the top 5 picks, in any category. Unfortunate, but true.

Geesh, Steve, I was so tired when I read your post that I read "Sandra, at least, knows my views on awards" and was thinking, "I do?" DUH! Time to crawl back under my rock and see if I can find my brain...

JA, thanks for commenting here and elsewhere, and also for your own insightful post today. Excellent, but I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that.

Trace, I'd love to read this article. Is it online?

stevemosby said...

"What I'm left wondering is if not as many books written by women were sent because the publicists didn't believe in them, or because there aren't that many women writing what qualifies as thrillers, or what the reason was."

Sandra - this is absolutely the key. And I don't think there should be a problem with naming names. It's integral, if anyone wants to make any kind of case for sexism, to say very clearly: 1) what work by a female writer (if any) was missing from the submissions; and 2) what works by female writers should have made the shortlist - and if so, in place of what. They can't just say "a woman should have been there" - that's meaningless bollocks. Which woman should have been there, and why?

And how soon you forget. We met by (briefly) falling out about the whole award issue... :-)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Steve, it's just that you've won me over with your sunny disposition, your light-hearted novels...

Oh, wait, wrong Steve.

I agree with you, and it brings to mind our initial disagreement elsewhere. Not to rehash that, but it felt like people were saying it should be Laura Lippman instead of Tess Gerritsen. And I wanted to ask why? Why not Laura Lippman instead of one of the others nominated?

It felt like that was the token female nominee spot, and all anyone expected of women.

I know that might not be the case, but still, it just didn't sit well with me.

For me, how can I criticize these judges? They read all the books submitted - I didn't. So how on earth can I say that a book does or does not deserve to be on the list? I can say what my favourites are, personally, but can I truly say THIS IS THE BEST BOOK? To me, maybe. But only to me.

Damn Steve, I'm still working on train tickets...

stevemosby said...

:-) Have you read and hated my book, then?

Train tickets - like I said, let me know if you need a hand.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Actually, I decided I would save your book for the flight. Isn't that cheesy? But I wanted it fresh in my brain, with all the arc's I've got stacked up here. I haven't even read the hardcovers I bought for my birthday, and I haven't even spent the rest of the book money I got - but I have a 20% off coupon for tomorrow and a fat gift card, so guess where I'm going?!

I followed up on that link you gave and emailed about what I needed and haven't heard back, so I guess I'm stuck looking for phone numbers for whoever sells tickets for the night train London to Edinburgh and GNER, is it, Edinburgh to York, then the other one, can't remember, York to Harrogate...

Why can't you guys just have ONE train network? You're killing me!

stevemosby said...

Confusing, I imagine - but we don't think about networks here. You just go to the station and get a ticket to y from x, and it might involve different carriers but to you it's just a journey.

You can look it up on Edinburgh to Harrogate, you'd leave 10.30 on Thurs, change at York, get into Harrogate at quarter to 2. £17 advance at the moment. Maybe it doesn't let you look up and book from abroad, though.

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